Education: Behind The Noise Of The ’21st Century Learner’

In my #tiegrad class, I was recently asked to consider whether or not our current schools/teachers/curriculum are preparing students for the 21st century?

I think it’s fair to say that schools, teachers, and curriculum want to meet the needs of their learners regardless of the century they occupy.  They want to produce independent thinkers who contribute to society in positive ways, and learners who are encouraged to reach their full potential.

Are they doing enough?

Probably not, but it isn’t from lack of trying.  Everyday I am surrounded by deeply passionate educators, who deliver curriculum in meaningful and innovative ways, work hard towards building robust relationships with students, in districts who desperately want to see successful children arriving at school doors every morning.

In order for curriculum to meet the needs of its learners it cannot be revised every 4+ years.  It’s in the area of curriculum where I find educators excel, and the work they do is sometimes under appreciated.  They have become extremely skilled at using curriculum as a guide before tweaking, contorting, and manipulating its content to make it relevant for their learners.  I don’t know a single teacher who isn’t working their socks off at making curriculum relevant.  It might not follow current ‘trends’ in education but who’s to say that it’s not meaningful to the group it’s being shared with.

By now it is unquestionable that our current education system was designed for a different era, and needs an overhaul.  Learners grouped by age instead of interest/ability, sat in desks for the majority of the day, learning a compartmentalized curriculum, and primarily focused on individual success and recognition.  The world is moving in a different direction and education is in danger of being left behind.  If our current education system operated in the business world, then it would have folded long ago.  In its defense, there isn’t the kind of money allotted to make the kind of sweeping changes that occur often in the corporate world.  Schools are asked to do more with less and strain is clear to see.  When high schools are so overpopulated that PE teachers are required to conduct their lessons in the hallways then there is an obvious problem.  Perhaps there are too many individual groups (Ministry of Education, school boards, school districts, DPACS, principals, parents, union, and teachers) within the system trying to advocate for their own methods of reform, that it is difficult to hear the message through the noise.  The British Columbia Ministry of Education is in the process of revising its curriculum through its much-touted BC Education Plan. Will it be enough?  Only time will tell whether it will support those asked to convey its new vision of a changing world and changing learner.  I agree with the BC Education Plan’s message that student’s need to be at the center of their learning.  In fact, the more I read about student centered learning from the likes of Angela Maiers’s The Passion Driven Classroom, Will Richardson’s Why School, and Daniel Pink’s Drive, the more I realize the importance of learner choice in education.  Learners need time in their weekly schedule to find their passions and follow their own learning path.  I particularly enjoyed watching Shelley Wright’s TED Talk about the power of student learning.  In it she talks about a pedagogical awaking under the guidance of Alex Couros.

“For the first time I began to realize that maybe my students could construct their learning.  That learning is constructed in community, and that maybe they would be the centre of it, maybe they would have something to say about it.…”  Shelley Wright.

Student centered learning promotes lifelong learning, stimulates creativity, fosters a healthy sense of inquiry, and leads to increased engagement in the subject matter.

As I continue to shape and reshape my own pedagogy through the experiences I have at school, my own lifelong learning, and the professional networks I have developed, I have come to realize certain facts about learners in the 21st Century.  I know that curriculum needs to be relevant and meaningful to its users.  I know that learners need time to follow paths of inquiry, and be encouraged to take risks. I know that the social and emotional needs of my students need to be met before any learning can take place, and there is a unhealthy fear of failure in our schools.  Most importantly, a robust, flexible, and rigorous public education system is more important than ever.

Conversations In Ed Series #1: Advocating For Co-Ed Sports Teams:



This post is the start of a series of postings which are designed to create conversations on a variety of educational topics. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

I have been thinking about this topic for a couple of years, because I have yet to hear valid reasons for segregated our students when they play on school sports teams?  Is it really necessary to separate girls and boys for team sports, at the elementary level?

Developing co-ed sports teams at the upper elementary level can create more harmonious classroom relationships between girls and boys, and may even lead to a deeper sense of gender equality later in life.  Those that play together learn to live together. I have often been dismayed by the lack of respect boys and girls show each on the playground, occasionally in the classroom, and frequently on the field of play. These offences are usually gross-generalizations passed down through generations. I have lost count how many times I have heard these quiet murmurings on and around the soccer, “They are just girls,” “We should score lots of goals today, they have girls on their team,” “You can’t skip with us you’re a boy.”

I have heard the argument that the physical differences between boys and girls should be reason enough to separate them, but I disagree.  In my experience, boys and girls aged 10, 11, and 12 (the age which students in my school district typically join sports teams) are very similar in bodyweight and height. Sure, there are times when the opposition towers over my smallest boys and girls, but they know its safe to play and nobody will intentionally hurt them.

Playing on co-ed teams teaches children to be more socially responsible.  One of our school’s goals is social responsibility. We learn social responsibly in different ways throughout the day, and one way is through play. What better way is there to learn these skills, in a truly authentic way? The power of a great play between a boy and girl on the soccer field cannot be understated, especially when that moment of mutual respect is later transferred to the classroom in terms of working together in harmony. I would even go so far as to say that later in life that single moment could lead to a deeper sense of gender equality.

Our schools should mirror society’s move towards greater gender equality.  We don’t have public schools for boys and public schools for girls in British Columbia.  In fact, we activity encourage our students to work in mixed gender groups in the classroom, so why not on the sports field?  Working and playing with the opposite sex is a skill and a necessity in life.  The sooner we close the gap by developing co-ed teams at the elementary level the better.

Is it really necessary to separate girls and boys for team sports, at the elementary level?  Co-ed teams foster a sense of mutual respect, they teach social responsibility, and they mirror what happens naturally in the classroom.

Further reading on gender bias’ in education:

View of single sex public education:

Could We Have Done Better?

Could We Have Done Better?

I work at the best school in the District.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that my school is the flagship school in the District.  Aside from the completely renovated heritage-style three storey school, the grounds are tastefully landscaped, and the exterior has been beautified in recent years with colourful murals which reflect our diversity and our community spirit.  The brand new enclosed hockey rink combined with a relatively new soccer field makes me proud when I arrive at work each day.

You can imagine how I felt when, on Tuesday morning, I arrived at work at 7am to find three separate messages spray-painted on the concrete at the south entrance to the school.  I was outraged!  The messages read, “@#$% the world 666”, “We rule this town,” and “Ho’s legs are as wide as the hallways.”  I could not stand the thought of students seeing the messages when they arrived at school, so I covered them up with garbage bags and masking tape.  Shortly after school started, I used the experience as a circle discussion in class, which led to a writing assignment.  A selection of student writing can be found below.  I assumed that someone would be on their way to school soon to remove the paint.  I was wrong.  72 hours later, two of the three messages remained.  Not only that, but since Tuesday afternoon when the first message was cleaned, the other messages were uncovered and left visible for all to see.  Could we have done better?

There exists an unfair stigma attached to my school.  Some people call it an inner-city school, others call it the downtown school.  In non-educational circles, it has been described as the rough school, and the troubled school.  It is a myth.  Granted, my school has its challenges, but the labels are unnecessary and unfair.  By not acting swiftly enough, have we perpetuated the myth?  A local elementary school visited our school twice this week for soccer games.  On both occasions parents, teachers, and students from the visiting school have accessed the south-entrance and encountered the disturbing messages.

Students at my school are some of the most socially conscious students I have encountered in the District.  We engage our students several times a day on the topic of social responsibility.  It is even one of our school goals.  We use restorative circle practices, teach and reteach our school matrix, and have committed to a year-long program called, “Play Is The Way,” which teaches children social responsibly through play.  In a nutshell our students, and in particular, our grade 5-6 leadership students, have a good sense of right from wrong.  Could we have modelled a socially conscious attitude ourselves and worked to remove or cover up the messages so our students were not exposed to such filth?  Could we have done better?

I wonder if parent pressure in a different school might have resulted in a quicker clean up effort of these disturbing messages.  If parents are not advocating for such things at my school, surely the school and the school district needs to be.  I am not aware of our District protocol for such events, but I would like to see it reviewed.  Disturbing messages need to be covered up before they are cleaned.  72 hours and counting, is too much time to deal with such issues.

Letters written by our students:

Vandalism is impacting kids in many ways, and what just happened at our school is no acceptation.  Some of us think of school as home.  Meaning we’ve been here for a very long time and we feel safe here.  It gives the school a bad reputation.  When parents come to school with their kids, who are still very young, and it makes them think “wow what kind of community  would do something like that.”  It doesn’t feel very safe when you read some of the comments.   As in “_ _ _ _ _ _ _ was here” or “I’ll be back”  it scares kids.  And even for me it just doesn’t make the school feel like a safe place, like it should.  When I come to school and see nasty or rude or inappropriate writing somewhere where lots of people ( youth, elderly, etc etc…) can see it, I feel disgusted.  >:( – Bryanna

Vandalism needs to STOP!
Vandalism needs to STOP!  Vandalism is impacting our community.  They are writing nasty things to our schools.  Vandalism is a crime. It’s wrecking property.  It’s making other people want to do vandalism as well.  If you see someone do it then sometimes you feel like doing it to. it makes me feel mad. – Andy

Vandalism needs to STOP!
This “vandalism” needs to stop, because some people care about these places!Some people stayed at Central Elementary school for along time. kids don’t need to know these kind of words. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like school vandalism. I don’t like the idea that our school district has to pay for this “vandalism”. I think the people that did this, should pay for it, also pay the time for cleaning this mess up. I would be delighted, to know people are amazing enough to stop, this Vandalism! =:) – Jessie

Dear Mayor Sharon Gates

When I came to school and saw vandalism on the cement I know lots of people where impacted.  The children were impacted they see the things that were written.  If you think about it what if the little children see the vandalism and they say the words that they see.  Our custodian is impacted be cause he has to clean the it.  How do you think he feels when he can’t clean it because of the paint they used?  And the parents get impacted because their children go to the school that has vandalism on it.  The parents probably feel like something could happen to their children.  The vandalism makes me feel angry and it needs to stop. – Taylor

Vandalism is wrong.  Little kids will be affected.  If it says bad words, little kids might say those words.  Vandalism makes the world look horrible.  Less people will want to go to that place.  Parents will be more protective of their children.  Parents won’t let their children to go outside very often.  Vandalism does not belong in this world. – Sereena